Or maybe an excellent one, depending on how you look at it. I certainly “wrestle with God” as Jews are commanded to do, or more exactly with Jewish practice. It all comes down to the “selectively observant” mention in the subheader of this blog, but the truth is I often feel more deprived, unfulfilled, or frustrated than selective. Sure, I am proud of the fact that I always try to understand both the letter and the spirit of any law or tradition. I find the exploration of the historicity of Jewish law (i.e. how it evolved over time and under what circumstances) exciting, inspiring and fascinating, but the bottom line is:
I observe Shabbat, but in my own way. I keep Kosher, but in my own way, I practice taharat hamishpacha, sort of, I celebrate all of the major holidays and put effort in preparing for them, both logistically and spiritually, but, the thing is… I am not sure any of that makes me legit in the eyes of any Jewish community, and I can’t find where to belong.
Both my esteemed teacher and the Beit Din probably had hopes that I would be a little “further along” both the doing and the learning by now. They would probably look at my unconventional ways and declare my conversion a failure, recall it perhaps, if that’s even possible.
And so what? Why do I care so much? I am not sure. I have always been one to do my own thing. I was never a big fan of group think or conformity. I’m not exactly a rebel or an original though. In fact my life is quite ordinary, but I have always preferred solitude to pretense, if pretense was the cost of company.
So why did I even convert? I could have practiced without the need to make it official, it turns out a lot of people do… I just felt compelled to, but that too, I had to do on my own terms. I searched high and low for a rabbi and found one who lived in Montreal. Adam and I drove two hours each way every Sunday evening for two years to enjoy the wonderful teachings of Reb Arie Chark. I didn’t do it halfway, but the trouble began when Reb Arie suggested I found a congregation to call home and a rabbi to convene a Beit Din. I was fortunate to find Rabbi Popky, who was also a wonderful teacher and whose philosophy jived very well with mine. Yet no congregation has felt quite right.
I know I am Jewish, I’m pretty sure God has no particular issue with the way things are, so why am I not content with the current state of affairs?
The beauty of being a convert is that you get to figure out what works for you from scratch. You get to write your own traditions, to bring your own understanding to millennial, century or decades old practices.
That of course, is also the greatest challenge of being a convert. Nothing is self-evident. There is no deeply rooted emotional attachment to this or that practice to guide you, no memory of the smell of challah baking in the oven, or of a family gathered late into the night around a Seder table. Everything is brand new, it’s a colossal effort.
There is so much to learn and understand, I often feel like one lifetime is not enough, especially with weeks currently going by faster than I count them.
And then there is what I simply can’t do on my own: incorporating or creating family traditions requires that the family be on board, and, although they most often are all for it in theory, practice is another challenge entirely when every new idea must be submitted, debated, explained before you can jump in and make a jolly, joyful mess of it.
The Beit Din is just the beginning, I knew that then, I know this now. I knew also that it would not be easy, yet I never imagined that the hardest part would not be how to incorporate this or that observance, but to decide what observances to incorporate. This difficulty has turned into urgency now that the little ones are here. They look up to us, they look up to me, and other than beautiful, complex, rich theories and stories, I feel that I don’t have much to offer them. Yet.